JANUARY is a busy month in capitals across America. New laws are implemented; Congress and legislatures reconvene, hoping to pass more. If one’s political party is in the minority, this is a terrifying prospect. For opponents of abortion, the outlook could hardly be sunnier. As of January, for example, abortion providers in Arkansas must follow new rules for inspections. Beginning this month, Utah and Nebraska bar private health plans from covering abortion. These laws follow an avalanche of abortion measures, passed last year, that are already in effect. As politicians return to capitals, more restrictions may come.
Last year saw a surge in social conservatism. It has been said that social issues inspire Americans to vote against their economic interests: a factory worker elects an anti-abortion Republican; in return he gets anti-union laws. Last year the adage was reversed. In 2010 Americans voted for economic austerity; in 2011 they got abortion restrictions. For those who oppose abortion, it was the most promising year in decades. For Barack Obama, it was a headache that looks set to grow worse.
The Supreme Court long ago ruled, in Roe v Wade, that women have the right to an abortion. Politicians, however, are testing more ways to limit access to one. Such efforts have little hope in Washington, DC, where Democrats control the Senate. Nevertheless, last year Republicans in the House of Representatives tried to bar funding for abortions permanently (a yearly amendment already does as much). They tried to do the same for Planned Parenthood, a chain of health clinics that offer abortions. They even voted to bar funding for a family-planning programme created by Richard Nixon, hardly a raging feminist.
As politicians bickered in Washington, state legislatures took action. The year was remarkable for the sheer number of new laws—91, reckons Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Many states barred abortion coverage from the health plans that will be offered on Mr Obama’s new health exchanges. Others banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, arguing that they were shielding fetuses from pain. States made it harder for minors to receive abortions. Nebraska, for example, now requires notarised parental consent. Sam Brownback, the outspoken governor of Kansas, passed the year’s broadest anti-abortion package. More surprising, Indiana was not far behind. In 2010 Mitch Daniels, Indiana’s governor, insisted that fiscal reform was more urgent than a divisive social agenda. In April 2011 he signed a broad anti-abortion bill.